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Candidate roundtable: State Senate District 28
Candidates weigh in on water, KBRA (Doug Whitsett and Kark Scronce)
By SAMANTHA TIPLER, Herald and News 4/1/12
As with many political discussions in the Klamath Basin, water was a divisive issue for the Republican candidates seeking the seat for Oregon Senate District 28.

Incumbent Doug Whitsett and challenger Karl Scronce sat down with the Herald and News and a broad spectrum of people representing different interests in the Basin for a roundtable discussion Thursday. Though many issues were discussed — economy, education, public safety, even Twitter — water and the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement stood out.

“It’s divided communities,” said Whitsett, who opposes the KBRA. “It’s divided irrigation districts, it’s divided Upper Basin and Lower Basin, it’s divided families, its divided fathers and sons and brothers.”

Scronce, a former wheat farmer and signatory of the KBRA, said if the agreement becomes the law of the land, the work is far from done.

“This isn’t something we can just walk away from and just say, ‘We’re all good, we’re all fine,’ ” Scronce said. “It’s something we’ll have to be engaged in from here to eternity.”

Dan Keppen, a member of the citizen advisory committee for the

Herald and News asked the candidates what they like and dislike about the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, and if they saw any alternative solutions.

Scronce: Scronce called himself, as a former Klamath Basin farmer, “intimately involved” in the agreement.

“Is it the best document in the world? Don’t know,” he said. But he said it was a good solution full of good compromises.

He spoke about he and others meet with many people from many different backgrounds, searching for an arrangement that would work. If it is put into action, he said, the KBRA would require even more work in the future.

“This isn’t something we can just walk away from and just say, ‘We’re all good, we’re all fine,’ ” he said. “It’s something we’ll have to be engaged in from here to eternity.”

Whitsett: Whitsett called the KBRA the most divisive issue he has ever seen. He thinks most people living in the Basin are against it, and especially against removing dams from the Klamath River.

He said it has divided the community, areas of the Basin and even families.

“I don’t think it had to be that way,” he said.

He wanted the agreement to be done in an open, legislative fashion.

Whitsett said the KBRA does not satisfy three of its promises: a stable supply of water to Klamath Reclamation Project irrigators, inexpensive power and freedom from litigation.

Whitsett referenced two attempts to sue based on biological opinions for protected fish. Oregon Wild and Center for Biological Diversity, he said, are attempting to sue the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to have chinook salmon listed as protected in the Basin.

Whitsett worried about a coming rate hike for PacifiCorp power customers, as a “rate shock” bill he introduced will expire on Jan. 1. After that, he worries irrigators will begin paying the same power rate as all PacifiCorp power users.

Scronce: “I couldn’t disagree any more,” he said.

Scronce said he knows the president of the Klamath Basin Power Alliance and PacifiCorp are working to negotiate an affordable power rate for irrigators.

He said the Basin would pay the price for the dams, whether they’re removed under the KBRA, and there will be new biological opinions published after the dams are removed.

He also said the agreement provides more water security than other options for water mitigation, like adjudication. Through the KBRA process, Scronce said, water users negotiated with the Klamath Tribes, trading water for restoration work on the Sprague, Williamson and Wood rivers. “To me that’s a cheap price to pay on something you will probably have to do anyway,” Scronce said.

Whitsett: Whitsett does not believe the KBRA will supplant the state adjudication process, which likely will institute a policy of first in time, first in right. “Adjudication has been Western water law for a century and a half,” Whitsett said. If for some reason the KBRA did supplant state adjudication, he said, it is likely the federal government would revert to the same first-come-first served mentality.

Again, Whitsett said he opposed the closed-door process that led to the restoration agreement. He thought an open, legislative approach would be more beneficial.

“It’s not as clear and transparent in the Legislature as it ought to be, but it’s certainly much more clear and transparent than negotiations to this agreement were,” he said.


Bill Kennedy, a rancher from Poe Valley, asked the candidates their opinion on the Bureau of Reclamation whistleblower who challenged the federal agency’s stance on dam removal. Specifically, he asked their opinions on whistleblowers and the process of peer review of scientific study.

Whitsett: “I think we should embrace whistleblowers,” Whitsett said. He commended whistleblowers for their courage to stand up and do the right thing.

Whitsett said he is against much of the science behind total daily maximum load, or TMDL, evaluations for Upper Klamath Lake, and consequently for the Klamath River. He said the source of phosphorous has not been properly identified.

As an example, he referenced core sampling done at the lake. He said his wife, Gail Whitsett, who is running for House District 56 and is a geologist, read the original logs on the sample and found the analysis inadequate.

Whitsett said too often science is being augmented to fit political opinions. “I think it’s a huge problem,” he said. “I don’t think it’s just in the Klamath Basin. I think it’s becoming systemic throughout our government.”

Scronce: “Let’s hear it all,” Scronce said. “Peer review means everybody gives their opinion and it’s all brought forward.”

He said the Bureau of Reclamation needs to include input, even if it may be different than what the Bureau’s opinion is.

As far as the phosphorous levels in Upper Klamath Lake, Scronce said he believes they are a key to the success of Klamath Basin agriculture.

“If we reclaim a section of lake, that’s 100 years of fertility there to grow crops,” he said.

He also said the wave action had a tendency to stir up soils, and the TMDLs can cause issues for the city of Klamath Falls and the South Suburban Sanitary District.


Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association asked the candidates their opinion on the water adjudication process with the state of Oregon, which likely will result in a first in time, first in right policy. Specifically he asked if they would support staffing local water masters to carry out the policy.

Scronce: Scronce said he would support adequate staffing, especially because of the controversial issues water and water rights pose. The most controversial, he said, likely will be the Tribal water rights that go back to time immemorial.

People can choose to litigate or settle their water rights, he said. But those who choose to litigate may get left behind.

“The rest of the world is moving on,” Scronce said.

As a farmer, he said he chose to settle his 1970 water right. He knew neighbors who did the same. Many people, he said, sold their water claims.

Whitsett: Whitsett, too, supported staffing the watermasters. He called them the most important position in the Oregon Water Resources Department.

“They are the ones who actually apply the law as it is — they apply the adjudication,” he said. “They are the people who keep peace in the neighborhood. They’re supposed to be those people who are above the fray.”


Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association asked if it was PacifiCorp’s right to enter into the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement.

Scronce: “They had ownership of those dams and they were representing their power customers, their power users and also their shareholders,” Scronce said. It was PacifiCorp’s obligation to be at the table, and with the team of lawyers it had, Scronce said, the company had good help in its efforts.

Whitsett: “Of course it’s their right to enter that agreement,” Whitsett said, but he didn’t believe PacifiCorp entered into the agreements of its own free will. He said PacifiCorp was given a choice, and both options involved removing dams.

The first was to remove the dams in 20 years, charge ratepayers the $200 million up-front cost, and be absolved of responsibility for any potential ecological damage downstream.

The second option was to keep the dams until regulations kept them from being profitable and PacifiCorp had to pay to remove the dams itself. It would then have been liable for any damage downstream. PacifiCorp chose the former.

“The choice wasn’t to relicense the dam,” Whitsett said.




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